Kevin Murray on Sun, 27 Feb 2000 18:08:13 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Free air

The following is an article for the Melbourne 'Age' newspaper. It follows a
notorious case of a mother who left her child locked in a closed car in the
baking sun for several hours while she played poker machines. It has
provoked responses at the highest level to temper the gambling industry. The
other context is the privatisation of public transport and emphasis on
fare-collection rather than infrastructure.


'Free air'. It's an advertising joke that has now become a standard feature
on new cars. The 'air' in this offer refers to 'air-conditioning'. As though
there could be no other kind of air.

Victorian commuters have discovered this summer that air is anything but
free. The hottest February on record, combined with aging rolling stock, has
meant that we have often found ourselves trapped inside windowless

It's a particularly distressing experience. The air-conditioner breaks down
and the tram stands motionless in the backing sun. The heat escalates. Beads
of sweat trickle down your forehead. You stare longingly outside-air, air,
everywhere, but not a breath to take.
It's at moments like these that you realise how subterranean our lives have
become. The world of raw elements rarely filters into to our technological
caves, filled with packaged air, bottled water, fluorescent light and FM

Air-conditioning used to extend only to private spaces, such as cars, homes
and offices. Then it became mandatory in public transport, sealing up the
windows. This year enclosure will extend to the football (Docklands) and
even the rainforest (Melbourne Museum's Gallery of Life). The cave gets
bigger every day.

Sweating passengers make sympathetic eye contact. In the past, a conductor
might have been able to do something. Some enterprising connies would even
keep an Allan key in their back pocket to open up the windows of Class B
trams for expiring passengers.

On a recent asphyxiating trip back from the Ballarat, I was in a delegation
of passengers that asked the driver what had gone wrong with the train. He
just laughed, 'The system's going to pieces.'
Air-conditioning turns out to be a trap. We've been lured into these cool
bright places only to find there is no escape when the system goes down.

If public transport is going to acquire third-world standards, in a leaner
and meaner privatised market, then we may as well embrace old-world
pleasures. Bring back the 'red rattlers' and Class W trams.
Let's breathe the open air-curse at the belching exhaust, delight in smell
of fresh rain. Real air is better than no air at all. The temperate nature
of Melbourne's climate is nothing to be afraid of. We need an Open Air
Movement to defenestrate our cities and let outside mingle with inside.

Finally, you reach your destination and emerge gulping for air. Suffocation
has become the nightmare of contemporary urban life. Every trip is a gamble.
But if it's no longer fun, can we just walk away?


Precis Forecasts for Melbourne
Issued at 0505 on Sunday the 27th of February 2000 for today and tonight
Sunday Fine.                                    Max 25

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